In 1492, “Columbus sailed the ocean blue” and discovered the New World. And Oct. 12 was once a celebrated holiday in America.
School children in the earliest grades knew the date and the names of the ships on which Columbus and his crew had sailed: the Nina, the Pinta, the Santa Maria. They knew his voyage had been financed by Queen Isabella of Spain, after the Genoese Admiral of the Ocean Sea had been turned down by other monarchs of Europe.
Oct. 12, 1492, was considered a momentous and wonderful day in world history: the discovery of America–by men from Europe.
This year, Columbus Day passed almost without notice. And that Columbus Day has become an embarrassment to many and an issue of savage controversy to some reflects a receding belief in this country in the superiority of our civilization.
Haters of Columbus say he was an imperialist, a colonialist, a genocidal racist, and a slaver who brought dictatorship, disease and death to the native peoples he encountered in the Caribbean.
And, in truth, many explorers and conquerors like Columbus, Cortes, Magellan, Pizarro and the soldiers and sailors they led, engaged in acts we would call atrocities and war crimes.
Yet that is true of every great empire and great civilization. The ancient Greeks had slaves. Were the Romans not brutal conquerors? Ask the Carthaginians. The Spanish, British and French empires all have their own long chronicles of crimes against colonized peoples.